Born of a priestly family in Anathoth, and prophesied from the 13th year of Josiah till after the downfall of Jerusalem, a period of over 40 years, 626–586 B.C. After Josiah’s death he tried to stem, almost alone, the tide of idolatry and immorality, of self-deception founded on superficial reforms (Jer. 3:4–5; 7:8–10), and of fanatical confidence in the Lord’s protection, in which all classes were carried away. He had to face continuous opposition and insult from the priests (20:2), the mob (26:8–9), his townsmen at Anathoth (11:19), the frivolous and cruel (22:13; 36:23; 26:20), the king (36:19), and the army (38:4). After the fall of Jerusalem the Jews who escaped into Egypt took Jeremiah with them as a kind of fetish (43:6), and at last, according to tradition, stoned him to death. The circumstances under which his prophecies were written down are described in Jer. 36. An arrangement of the chapters in chronological order is indicated below.
The prophet dwells much on the inwardness of the Lord’s relation to the mind of His servants. External service is useless where there is no devotion of heart and life; superficial reforms were of no avail—a complete regeneration in the national life was required. He develops the idea of individual fellowship with the Lord (5:1, 7, 26–28; 9:1–6; 18); though the Jewish state falls, the Lord remains, and religion remains in the life of the individual.
- Prophecies of reign of Josiah (626–608), Jer. 1–6.
- Prophecies under Jehoiakim (608–597), Jer. 7–20.
- Prophecies under Zedekiah (597–586), Jer. 21–38, divisible into several groups. (a) Jer. 21–23, on pastors or rulers of the people, with promise of the king Messiah (23:1–6); Jer. 24, on exiles carried away with Jehoiachin. (b) Jer. 26–29, on the false prophets, containing the prophet’s letter to the exiles in Babylon, warning against the prophets there. (c) Jer. 30–33, prophecies of the latter-day restoration of Israel and the gospel covenant, containing the story of the prophet’s buying a field, showing the firmness of his faith in the people’s restitution. (d) Jer. 34–38, narratives of the treatment of the prophet and other events during the last times of the siege.
- Jer. 39–44, the prophet’s history and other events after the fall of the city.
- Jer. 46–51, prophecies against foreign nations. Chapters 50–51 in their present form are later than Jeremiah. Chapter 52 forms a historical conclusion.
Notable passages from Jeremiah include the following: 1:4–5, an acknowledgment of man’s premortal existence, and Jeremiah’s foreordination; 3:12–19, prophecy of the return of Israel from the scattered condition, gathering one of a city and two of a family to Zion, a pleasant land where Israel and Judah can dwell in safety and peace; 16:14–21, a prophecy of the Lord gathering Israel from the north countries by sending many fishers and hunters to find them. This event of the latter days will supersede in proportion even the bringing of Israel out of Egypt by Moses.